There was a time when I was a little kid and thought that adults were strange because they liked the taste of coffee. Now I try hard to limit my consumption of it to two cups a day and I know what part of the world I like my coffees to come from. But one thing that I did appreciate even back then were the rare field trips into coffee estates when I spent summers off with family.
On my recent trip to India, I got to meet my relatives and spend some time again at their coffee estates. Now, not everyone knows that India has a history of coffee. While taking pictures, I realized that others may also appreciate seeing where and how coffee is harvested and processed before you can drink it. So I put this video clip together for you.
The rest of this post details the process if you prefer to read.
There are two main strains of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is harder to grow, requires higher elevation and also sells for a higher price. Robusta is a lot easier to grow, is more disease tolerant but sells for a lower price. The two are very easy to tell apart. The leaves of the Robusta bush are broader and bigger.
Ripe red berries are harvested by hand towards the end of the year. The coffee pickers are typically women and they go from bush to bush plucking ripe berries. The women are paid by the number of sacks they pick and so they work quickly. If the coffee estate has a mix of Arabica and Robusta bushes, the women have to separate the pickings.
Sorting and Grading
In my Uncle’s estate, the first sorting of the ripe berries from the green berries happens at picking. The few berries that are just short of ripe but that will decay before the next picking go into a separate sack from the red and ripe berries. Even so, before pulping can start, the freshly picked berries are spread out on a clean surface and further sorting and grading is done. Specialty coffees require only red ripe berries. Damaged and decayed berries and other impurities like twigs and leaves are removed. The berries are then placed in a tank and washed before being taken to a siphon tank. Here the good berries collect in one place and the ones that float are removed and processed separately.
The good coffee berries then go through the pulping machine where the outer skin is mechanically separated from the coffee bean.
Once the skin is removed the mucilage surrounding the bean is washed off when the beans go through the washing machine. The washed beans are collected in large containers to take to the drying yards.
The beans are laid out on a clean surface to dry in the sun. The thin layer is raked through about 7 times a day to ensure even drying. The beans are dried for 5-7 days or till they arrive at 10.5% moisture.
Once the beans have been dried, they are stored in clean jute bags that allow ventilation. Plastic bags should not be used as they will make the coffee beans sweat. The coffee planter then sells the beans to a wholesaler or exporter.
The beans are typically roasted close to the point of sale of the end product. Roasted beans will lose their flavor if not further processed or used within a few months.
Coffee is typically sold ground in India though you can get roasted coffee beans too. Roasting and grinding is usually done at the same facility to the recipes specified by the buyer. In India, the coffee is mixed with some chicory. The coffee is then packaged for wholesale customers or retail consumption.
So the next time you drink a cup of coffee, hopefully knowing how coffee if harvested and processed will make your next cup of coffee taste even better.